This article was originally published Jan. 18, and has been updated to reflect the 49ers win in the playoffs.
Now that the 49ers are in the Super Bowl, the friends and family of linebacker and former C. D. Hylton High School student Ahmad Brooks are cheering him on.
"Everybody's pulling for him, that the hometown boy does good," Brooks' high school coach Bill Brown said. Brown coached at Hylton for the school's first 11 years.
Football runs in Brooks' family. Brooks' dad, Perry Brooks Sr., played for the Washington Redskins, and his older brother, Perry Brooks Jr., also played for Hylton's football team.
"Perry told me about Ahmad, and said, 'He's really good,'" Brown said. "I asked, 'Is he as good as you?' 'No,' Perry said. 'He's better than me.'"
Brooks played for Brown all four years at Hylton. He came to Hylton as a freshman and was such a standout player that he was placed on the junior varsity football team, and then the varsity team, all within his freshman year.
Brooks was starting for the team as an outside linebacker when the Bulldogs made the playoffs and then won the state championship his freshman year. His sophomore year, Brooks played middle linebacker and wide receiver. The team won the state championship again, despite being behind late in the game.
"He intercepted a pass that gave us a chance to win, and he caught the touchdown pass," Brown said.
Brooks had 207 tackles in his high school football career, despite being injured for his junior year.
"The first scrimmage of the year, he broke his ankle," Brown said. "The opposing team's defense could not get him on the ground, could not tackle him. There were about three of them trying to get him on the ground, and one of them sat on his ankle, and that's what broke it."
Brooks came back to the team his senior year, and had a "phenomenal year," Brown said. He was USA Today's National Defensive Player of the Year.
"I've coached now for about 35 years, and he was the only player that I've coached in high school that could play every position on the field," Brown said. "He could have played quarterback, he could have played offensive line, he could have played defensive line. There was nothing he couldn't do as a high school player, no position he couldn't play."
Brown remembered coaching a state all-star game, with Brooks as one of the players.
"In the beginning of the game, we were not doing really well," he said. "We had stopped the other team and they had to punt the ball to us. Ahmad put himself in the game. He went in as punt returner and returned it back to the five yard line and we got momentum and we won the game."
It's unheard of for someone who's six-foot-three or four and 230 pounds to go in as a punt returner, said Brown.
"It was just typical of his abilities, the things he could do," he added. "During the time that Ahmad played for us, we won 39 games in a row. That wasn't all because of Ahmad, but he sure had a big part in it. At the time, we were ranked 13th in the United States."
Brown thinks the 49ers are a strong team, thanks in part to Brooks' defensive efforts.
"Their defense is really good. Now that they've moved the other quarterback, they're even more of a threat offensively," he said. "It's fun to watch Ahmad play when you know him, you've coached him. No team I've seen this year has been able to run the ball by Ahmad or outside of Ahmad. He sets the edge. I think he's going to do great because he does what the coaches ask him to do in terms of defense. That's why I think he's got a chance to be in the Pro Bowl. The bigger the games are, the more he stands out."
"Born to play football"
Krsunthia Childs, Assistant Principal at Lake Ridge Middle School, and Brooks' older sister, said Brooks really admired Brown.
In Brooks' old bedroom at his parents' house, he covered the walls with football articles and ephemera.
"There was an article back when Coach Brown was at Hylton, about the championships he had led the kids to," Childs said. "The only thing that ever remained was the article about Coach Brown. Even when the room was painted, that went back up. Ahmad truly admires Mr. Brown."
Childs also went to Hylton High School, and after she graduated from college, came back to the county as a teacher.
Childs and her family went to each of Brooks' high school football games.
"We'd always go to the games," she said. "That was just a tradition. Wherever they went, whether it was a home game or an away game, we always traveled to all of the games."
The family developed a tradition in which Childs told a joke on the way to each game.
"As we were getting close to the stadium, they'd say, 'You haven't told a joke yet!'" she said.
When Childs' mother was pregnant with Brooks, Childs wanted a baby sister.
"As the only girl in the family, I already had one brother," she said. "When my father came home and said, 'It's a boy,' I was so upset, and I stormed off to my room."
But though Childs was initially disappointed, she soon grew very attached to young Ahmad.
"For me, Ahmad, he's the baby," she said. "We were always together, we always did things together."
Brooks was always very athletic.
"He started riding a bike without training wheels at three years old," she said. "He was always into sports. Always outside on his bicycle, loved to be outside. He was just born to play football."
When Childs left to go to college, Brooks was still in elementary school, and she worried he would forget about her.
"Whenever I would leave for college, he would always stay in my room for at least a week after I left, and then he would go back to his room," she said.
By the time Childs graduated college, Brooks had started high school at Hylton.
Childs described Brooks as a quiet, reserved and humble person.
"Growing up, he would play, but he would see his friends on the side, and he would say, 'I want my friend to have a chance to play,'" she said. "That's just the kind of kid that I always remember him being. He wanted everyone to have a chance."
Before the playoffs, Childs hoped that the 49ers would make it to the Super Bowl.
"I don't want to get too excited, because they still have one game to go," she said. "Last year we were very excited and we kind of just lost at the very end. We've been waiting and hoping for a year just to get back to this point."
Brooks' father played in Super Bowl XVII and XVIII. Brooks' mother was pregnant with Brooks when they went to Super Bowl XVIII.
"I hope that he gets the chance to actually get to play in the Super Bowl," Childs said. "He said he doesn't want to go to the Super Bowl unless he's playing in it."